Why Do We Lie? The Good and the Bad about Lying
When we were young, our parents usually taught us not to lie. Yet, we learned early not only the benefits but also the necessity of lying. Lying can be a good thing. The “white lies” we tell to others serves as the social glue that allows us to sustain and enrich our relationships. For example, when maiden Aunt Agnes asks how you like the fruitcake she gives you every year at the holidays, you don’t tell her it is too sweet and gooey. Instead, you “lie” and tell her how much you like it. This “fib” is good lying. You don’t need to be truthful because she is not really asking for the truth. She is asking for confirmation that she is valued and important, so when you say something positive such as “It’s great how you always put your heart into things at the holidays, Aunt Agnes,” you will not be lying.
In addition to good lies to others, we also rely on good lies to ourselves. These good self-lies are the engines that allow us to get up in the morning and go on with our lives. We “lie” to ourselves that the world can be a dangerous and unfair place, that fate is fickle and that life can change in an instant. If we didn’t filter out these possible truths, we might pull the covers over our heads. Like in the movie “Groundhog Day,” we start each day with a touch of Bill Murray, whose character must start the same day over and over.
A certain amount of these lies of denial are necessary for survival—after all, the caveman had to say to himself, “I’m going out there again because I killed one giant beast for dinner, so I know I can kill another.” But these kinds of lies have a way of leading us to the border of good/bad self-lies. We lie about how unhappy we are in our marriages and relationships, how much we dislike our bosses and jobs, how much we must tolerate our in-laws or even how disappointed we are in our children. We maintain these lies because, on some level, we sense that seeing the truth about our situation might require us to risk making unwise decisions. For example, many long-term happy marriages go through periods of dissatisfaction and emerge stronger. It would have been a mistake to have gotten divorced. On the other hand, this good/bad border might also make us maintain our blinders and prevent us from taking steps to change. For example, a woman might stay in a bad relationship because she fears that if she breaks up, she won’t find another man. Her self-lies have made her buy into the belief that having just about any kind of man is better than not having a man at all.
Yet, soon this frontier of good/bad self-lies can become a bad thing. We lie about how much we or our loved ones abuse alcohol, gamble, get violent, depressed and stressed, eat too much or unhealthily. These lies are bad because they can lead to serious negative consequences such as heart attacks, diabetes and domestic partner violence.
It’s easy to see how easy it is to lie! Let’s look at the most common ways we apply these good and bad lies.
What kinds of things do you lie about?
Hope this article gets you thinking.
Thank you. LB
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LeslieBeth Wish is a Psychologist, Clinical Social Worker and author who is nationally recognized for her contributions to women, love, relationships, family, career, workplace, and organizations.